Dinéjí Na`nitin

Dinéjí Na`nitin: Navajo Traditional Teachings and History

Robert S. McPherson
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by:
Pages: 220
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  • Book Info
    Dinéjí Na`nitin
    Book Description:

    Traditional teachings derived from stories and practices passed through generations lie at the core of a well-balanced Navajo life. These teachings are based on a very different perspective of the physical and spiritual world than that found in general American culture. Dinéjí Na`nitin is an introduction to traditional Navajo teachings and history for a non-Navajo audience, providing a glimpse into this unfamiliar domain and illuminating the power and experience of the Navajo worldview. Historian Robert McPherson discusses basic Navajo concepts such as divination, good and evil, prophecy, and metaphorical thought, as well as these topics' relevance in daily life, making these far-ranging ideas accessible to the contemporary reader. He also considers the toll of cultural loss on modern Navajo culture as many traditional values and institutions are confronted by those of dominant society. Using both historical and modern examples, he shows how cultural change has shifted established views and practices and illustrates the challenge younger generations face in maintaining the beliefs and customs their parents and grandparents have shared over generations. This intimate look at Navajo values and customs will appeal not only to students and scholars of Native American studies, ethnic studies, and anthropology but to any reader interested in Navajo culture or changing traditional lifeways.

    eISBN: 978-1-60732-217-7
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction Entering the Táchééh
    (pp. 1-12)

    As I completed this manuscript in mid-July 2011, two seemingly unrelated items to most people came to my attention. The first was the containment of Arizona’s largest fire in the history of the state, recently burning in the White Mountains of the Bear Wallow Wilderness. The blaze eventually dipped into part of western New Mexico—scorching over 538,000 acres total, destroying seventy-two buildings, and at one point causing the evacuation of 10,000 people.¹ Started on May 29 by an abandoned campfire, the conflagration eventually required 1,700 firefighters to suppress the blaze, burning 841 square miles of rugged territory, primarily in...

  5. 1 Wind, Hand, and Stars: Reading the Past, Finding the Future through Divination
    (pp. 13-43)

    Americans, as with many other cultures, have always had a penchant for figuring out the past and prying into the future. Where facts are lacking, assumptions abound. Even in the most technologically advanced, scientifically based communities where sequential logic reigns supreme, the human element still forecasts, predicts, and investigates to make the future understandable. Take the poor weatherman, who stands in front of his viewing audience and explains that in five days there are going to be thundershowers, yet none appear. Or the business executive who puts data into a computer and then allows the machine to guide his decision-making....

  6. 2 The 1918–1919 Influenza Epidemic: A Cultural Response
    (pp. 44-71)

    As the last cold months of 1918 drew to a close, the bloody annals of World War I became a part of history and a prelude to hopes for peace. Another enemy, however, was stalking the living to spread death and sadness throughout the world. Even in countries that were technologically advanced in healthcare, such as the United States, the disease known as Spanish Influenza took its toll, killing over 21,000 Americans in the last week of October alone.¹ Transmitted primarily through the respiratory system, the sickness leaped from person to person, community to community, and region to region—inflicting...

  7. 3 Sacred Evil: The Dark Side of Life along the San Juan
    (pp. 72-99)

    Navajo Oshley came over the hill just in time to find Old Teacher, a medicine man, beating his new wife, formerly Old Teacher’s spouse. The ex-husband was angry that she had left him and was delivering a sound drubbing when Oshley arrived. The two tussled before Oshley tossed the man to the ground and warned him that he had better not cause any more trouble. The disgruntled loser eventually rode away, but this was not the end of it. As a practitioner of the Hoof and Claw Way ceremony (Akéshgaan), he held powers to heal but also to harm an...

  8. 4 “Too Much Noise in That Bunch across the River”: Ba’álílee and the 1907 Aneth Brawl
    (pp. 100-132)

    Moonlight turned the yellow cottonwood leaves silver as they drifted in the gentle current of the San Juan River. The black turbid water, low against the drought-parched banks, was easily fordable along this stretch of river near Aneth, Utah. Known as Old Age River (Sᾁ Bitooh) and One with a Long Body (Bits’íísnineezí), the San Juan was the northernmost of the four sacred rivers that protected Navajo land. Viewed as a powerful snake wriggling through the desert, a flash of lightning, a black club, the river protected those on its south side as a boundary of safety.¹ Hogans, livestock corrals,...

  9. 5 Traditional Teachings and Thought: Navajo Metaphors of the Elders
    (pp. 133-158)

    “Cartoons. Did my grandpa tell you any of those cartoons he has running around in his head?”

    I winced. The young teenage boy gazed into my eyes without a ripple of a smile. He was serious. I looked over in the corner where, sitting beside a small wood-burning stove, rested an older Navajo man—silver hair cropped close, his eyes gazing into the fire. I was glad that he probably did not understand what his grandson had just said, since what was a cartoon to one person was the essence of life for the other.

    As I made my way...

  10. 6 “He Stood for Us Strongly”: Father H. Baxter Liebler’s Mission to the Navajo
    (pp. 159-186)

    The San Juan River was still running deep that July 1943. The cottonwood leaves trembled slightly in the midday heat, with an occasional breeze snaking its way along the dirt road that ran beside the red rock bluffs north of the river. Ada Benally remembers shading her eyes and looking across the brown, roiling water at the approaching dust cloud that billowed above the far bank. The hum of vehicle engines stopped, the opening and closing of truck doors sounded in the distance, and the dust began to settle. Ada wondered what was happening. The sights and sounds came from...

  11. 7 Seeing Is Believing: The Odyssey of the Pectol Shields
    (pp. 187-212)

    Sparks from the piñon and juniper fire rose into the black night sky. Shadows danced on the low alcove’s walls, flames flickering with wind currents. Nine figures crowded beneath or stood outside a low overhanging ledge, as some bent forward digging and peering into a hole in the sandy-bottomed cave. There was nothing to distinguish this particular site, a mere four feet by six feet, from any other of the countless crevices and rock niches surrounding the little town of Torrey and what would later become Capitol Reef National Park, Utah. Supervising the excavation was Ephraim Portman Pectol, a Latter-day...

  12. 8 Of Stars, Goats, and Wind: Navajo Metaphors Then and Now
    (pp. 213-236)

    Laughter, ranging between mirthful chortles and desk-pounding guffaws, escaped out of the room and skipped down the hall. Inside, the half-dozen middle-aged Navajo people sat around a table exchanging words like kids swapping baseball cards—each one anxious to share but keenly interested in what others had to offer. “When the wife leaves, the deer doesn’t sit still,” “when the sun kills the stars,” and “April 15 is when the billy goat lies down” were just a few of the colorful metaphors traded that day. To an outsider they made no sense; for those sitting in the room, they were...

  13. 9 Gambling on the Future: Navajo Elders, Jiní, and Prophetic Warnings
    (pp. 237-264)

    One of the greatest concerns for Navajo elders today is the loss of cultural values. Youth in particular receive censure for not practicing many of the traditional teachings that carried the elders through tough times—the loss of livestock in the 1930s, participation in World War II, entry into the wage economy of the 1950s, mining during the Cold War in the 1950s and 1960s, and the start of bewildering technological changes in the 1970s that reached full force by the beginning of the twenty-first century. Constant as a pole star, traditional values guided the elders, shaping their understanding of...

  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 265-274)
  15. Index
    (pp. 275-287)